Digital Public Goods for the SDGs:

New UNDP report & Primero case study

· Front Page,Stories

The world at a crossroads, and how tech can help

As we roll into 2023, there is mounting concern about the lack of progress being made towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. For every uplifting story about progress on one indicator, there seems to be another more menacing report about the lack of positive change towards other goals. Armed conflict, climate change, and public health crises dominate the news. UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, has begun sounding the alarm bells and warning the governments of the world that too little progress is being made, and that immediate, decisive action is required to meet global challenges and protect our common future.

“Halfway to 2030, we are far off track. This must be the year when we lay the foundations for more effective global cooperation that can deal with today’s challenges as well as new risks and threats down the line.”

UN Secretary-General, António Guterres. 13 February 2023

Obstacles and enablers

In the face of enormous challenges, the world's governments are shifting focus. To have any chance at achieving the SDGs, they will need to innovate to accelerate change. They need every tool in the toolbox, and they need all the support they can get. New ways of working and new avenues to impact have to be explored. Investment in digital systems for the public sector is widely seen to be a key enabling factor for improving service delivery, but such investments also present obstacles. Developing fit-for-purpose software can be expensive and time-consuming, and there is no guarantee of success. When improperly implemented, digital systems may also increase risks for some of the people they are intended to serve. This is where digital public goods and digital public infrastructure have a key role to play.

In his 2021 report Our Common Agenda, Secretary-General Guterres uses the focus on our common challenges to propose concrete, actionable strategies based on our collective strengths. The report proposes a series of actions in line with the 12 Commitments from the Declaration on the Commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations - including the Commitment to Improve Digital Cooperation - that are aligned with the SDGs and designed to advance them. When a digital solution or service is working well in one country's public sector, why not make it available to others who can benefit from it? Digital public goods are proven solutions that can bring efficiencies, expertise and capacity to assist in advancing the SDGs, while keeping human rights, inclusivity and sustainability at the center of the conversation.

Primero: Leading the Protection Sector

Armed conflict fragments families and traumatizes children. Climate change causes migration and displacement. Global pandemics undermine family support structures and access to protective services. Primero is the leading digital solution serving protection and social welfare programming globally, with thousands of users spread across more than 50 countries and territories. Providing digital tools to frontline workers in a sector that is often forgotten, Primero has developed a community of users and a technical support network that can be called upon to respond to crises and to advance national development agendas.

This experience and expertise has made Primero a leading example of how digital public goods can and should be leveraged for social impact and the SDGs.

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A new report from UNDP: DPGs for the SDGs

Primero has been featured as a case study in a new report released this week by UNDP. The report looks at the critical role that technology can play in the global development agenda. It looks at five different digital solutions and brings together insights and findings on what it takes to develop, implement and replicate open-source software at scale in a sustainable way.

"Digital public goods (DPGs) are crucial building blocks for enabling countries to build safe, trusted and inclusive digital public infrastructure (DPI), and are increasingly becoming critical levers for helping countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)". UNDP Report

The Primero case study examines various elements of the Primero sustainability plan, including its technical architecture, business model, stewardship model and community management strategy, and provides analysis and seven key lessons learned that other digital public goods can draw from.

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"Given Primero’s eventual scale and its adaptive approach to community governance and business sustainability, there is much to be learned from it."

UNDP Report

Although the recognition of the role of technology in development is growing, the UNDP is intentional and drills down into several insights that look at unlocking the full potential of digital public goods. The report draws on the case studies to pinpoint 5 key insights that are relevant for advancing the DPG agenda and strengthening the ecosystem. It is a must read for decision makers and a great resource to help us "further harness the manifold benefits of DPGs".


Our thanks to the team at UNDP for inviting Primero to participate.